School bus driver's lawsuit says he was sick, not driving drunk

Michael Asseng, a school bus driver, plans to Michael Asseng, a school bus driver, plans to sue Nassau County for $10 million over a drunken driving arrest after he hit a parked car while transporting students. (Aug. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz

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A school bus driver plans to sue Nassau County and police for $10 million over a driving while intoxicated arrest after he hit a parked car while transporting students.

Michael Asseng, 48, said he was not intoxicated but sick when he "sideswiped" the car in Farmingdale Jan. 18. He was taken to police headquarters, then ended up in the hospital for weeks with a "near fatal" case of blood poisoning, he said. The charges have since been dropped, according to the Nassau County district attorney's office.

"I sat in the hospital in tears, worried about going to jail over something I know I didn't do," Asseng, of Deer Park, recalled Thursday. "I think what that police officer did was unacceptable, delaying my medical care. Taking me to that precinct put my life in danger."

The notice of claim, sent to the Nassau County Attorney's Office last month, accuses police of unlawfully arresting him and denying him "reasonable" medical care that led to "serious bodily injury" and "near loss of life."

Asseng was driving four grade-school students home when he became disoriented, he said, and struck the car. No injuries were reported by the students, police said.

Results were negative in all three Breathalyzer tests given at the accident scene, he said.

Det. Vincent Garcia, a police spokesman, said the Breathalyzer tests only for alcohol, so it was possible Asseng was under the influence of drugs.

The driver had "glassy eyes, slurred speech, appeared disorientated and was unsteady on his feet," he said.

Later in police custody, Asseng began sweating profusely and had problems breathing, Garcia said.

"We believe we had probable cause for the initial arrest," the spokesman said, "and when we believed that Mr. Asseng may have been suffering from a medical condition, he was transported to the hospital."

On June 14, a judge dismissed the case after prosecutors dropped the charges -- four counts of aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving while ability impaired by drugs.

"There was no alcohol or drugs found in his system," said Chris Munzing, a district attorney spokesman.

Asseng said he had a fever, nausea and stomach pains after kidney stone treatments but worked that day because his company was short of drivers.

At police headquarters, Asseng said he could not urinate for a drug testing sample, but officers told him "if you don't give me a urine sample, you're not leaving here."

Eight hours after the accident, Asseng said, he was taken in a police car to Nassau University Medical Center, where he remained until March 5.

He was diagnosed with sepsis, or blood poisoning, in which the body reacts severely to an infection. It can lead to huge drops in blood pressure, blood clots and organ damage.

"He had a perforated stomach, resulting in mental status changes similar to being intoxicated," said Dr. Lambros Angus, NUMC's chief of trauma. "He was septic and not drunk."

Asseng said he had surgery to repair holes in his stomach, then developed a blood clot in his lungs and was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks.

The bus driver has been out on disability, saying he injured his back in the accident.

Trying to clear his name, Asseng said he's been publicly humiliated and his children ridiculed about the incident.

"That's very harming, insulting and upsetting," he said, "and to me, it's all because that police officer made a big mistake."

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